Coronavirus tests giving results in 20 minutes could be rolled out nationwide in six weeks

Mr Hancock said the instant tests “could change the way that we control Covid-19 across the country, getting those with negative results back into society as quickly as possible”.

The trial of on-the-spot tests will start in Hampshire, with up to 4,000 people of all ages and backgrounds tested. The new test does not need to be sent to a laboratory to be processed.

Receiving results on site will mean people with symptoms will be given immediate certainty on whether or not they have the virus and rapidly follow advice to stay at home if they test positive or return to work if negative.

The scheme will be led by Hampshire Hospitals NHS Trust, with trained health professionals asked to take a swab and process results on site. Tests will be offered to patients and health workers with symptoms of the virus and to all residents and care workers in selected care homes.

Mr Hancock said they would be particularly useful for health and care staff, adding: “This will enable health and care workers to carry on with their shift or immediately isolate on the same day, and could eventually offer the same benefit to the whole country.”

In contrast to widely-used PCR [polymerase chain reaction] tests, which need be processed at different temperatures, the loop-mediated isothermal amplification (Lamp) swab test does not require a change in temperature to detect results.

This means it can be processed on site rather than being sent to a laboratory. Validation for the test using RNA extract has already been carried out in a clinical setting at Hampshire Hospitals NHS Trust.

The Covid-19 Lamp assay test was developed by UK manufacturer Optigene.

Mr Hancock also announced plans to offer tens of thousands of antibody tests to NHS workers. The blood tests, which show whether a person has ever been exposed to the virus, are being offered to health and care staff in an effort to provide clinical workers with reassurance and information.

However, it is not yet known how much immunity is conferred by the antibodies, or how long it lasts, and health officials have warned that the uncertainty means it will not be possible to grant “immunity certificates”.

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